CBN May Protect Against Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease
While CBD and THC have received a lot of attention, recent research has found that other cannabinoids may be beneficial in specific health condition. A group of researchers sought out whether or not CBN could be used in treating neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's.
In a new study, American researchers found that cannabinol (CBN) – a cannabinoid similar to cannabidiol (CBD) – protects neurons in the brain from age-related damage that can contribute to neurological diseases.
Oxytosis has been seen in the brains of multiple types of neurodegenerative conditions, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, suggesting to researchers that oxytosis could be a potential cause.
“We’ve found that cannabinol protects neurons from oxidative stress and cell death, two of the major contributors to Alzheimer’s,” said Pamela Maher, a study co-author and head of the Salk Institute’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory.
“This discovery could one day lead to the development of new therapeutics for treating this disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s disease,” Maher added.
While significant research has placed popular cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD in the clinical spotlight, less is known about CBN.
CBN is one of over 120 different active components found in the cannabis plant and is produced when THC breaks down over time through exposure to oxygen. Unlike THC, CBN is also non-psychoactive.
“CBN is not a controlled substance like THC, the psychotropic compound in cannabis, and evidence has shown that CBN is safe in animals and humans,” said Zhibin Liang, a study co-author and member of the Maher lab.
CBN protects the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell
As brain cells age, they experience oxidative damage. Some level of damage is natural but damage can also be accelerated through exposure to chemicals such as environmental pollutants and tobacco smoke, as well as from ionizing radiation such as solar UV rays.
With oxytosis, damage accumulates in brain cells when they gradually lose glutathione, a type of antioxidant that prevents and neutralizes oxidative damage.
To mimic this process in the laboratory, the research team first treated cells with or without CBN, then added a reagent to trigger oxidative damage. Without CBN, 40-60% of the cells died, whereas the majority of cells treated with CBN survived the damage.
Specifically, CBN helped cells survive damage by protecting a part of the cell known as the mitochondria which provide essential energy required for cell function.
Healthy mitochondria are typically arranged in a web-like network across the cell and CBN helped cells retain that.
But without CBN, the mitochondria became damaged and would clump into globular rings – something that can be seen in the brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
In a separate experiment, the researchers tested whether CBN would still be able to protect brain cells from oxytosis if the cells didn’t have any mitochondria. In these cells, CBN had no effect, indicating that keeping the mitochondria healthy was a major part of CBN’s protective functions.
“We were able to directly show that maintenance of mitochondrial function was specifically required for the protective effects of the compound,” Maher said.
The next big step for the Maher lab is to now test whether CBN can offer the same protective effects in animals such as mice.
But the therapeutic potential of CBN products likely doesn’t end with just neurological diseases.
Maher also explained that because damaged and dysfunctional mitochondria is a contributor to a variety of health conditions apart from neurological disease, CBN could potentially help unlock treatment options for other disorders.
“Mitochondrial dysfunction is implicated in changes in various tissues, not just in the brain and aging, so the fact that this compound is able to maintain mitochondrial function suggests it could have more benefits beyond the context of Alzheimer’s disease,” Maher said.
Calvin Chan is a researcher and medical writer from Edmonton, Canada. As a big science nerd, he loves reading and writing about everything science - from cannabis to dark matter and even alien life. Calvin has a PhD from the University of Alberta.